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Remembering the legacy of César Chávez

Cesar Chavez would have been 87 this Monday Eighty seven years ago this Monday, César Chávez, a hero of the labor and civil rights movements, was born on a small ranch in Yuma, Arizona.

Like thousands of others Chávez’s family lost its land in the Great Depression and headed to work in the fields of California’s central valley, where he would spend the rest of his life fighting for the rights of migrant farmworkers. Growing up, Chavez experienced grinding poverty and rampant discrimination against Mexican Americans. He left school after 8th grade and began working in the fields full time to help support his family, but he never lost his appetite for education, teaching himself about Gandhi’s non-violent strategies for social change.

Chávez’s passion for social justice led him to become a community organizer, registering Latinos to vote so they could fight for their civil rights, but he understood that farmworkers could only win dignity and respect by banding together to form a union in the fields. Even some of Chávez’s allies doubted that Spanish-speaking migrant workers could ever organize successfully, but he led the creation

of the organization that would become the United Farm Workers in 1962.

The organization struggled at first, but in 1965 Filipino workers on grape farms launched a strike demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage (from which they were excluded) and approached Chávez for support. Chávez inspired Latino workers in the grape i

ndustry to stand in solidarity with the strike, which spread rapidly through the California fields. During the strike, Chávez pioneered unprecedented strategies that have become invaluable to all of us in the labor movement. He led workers in long marches that crossed the state of California to raise awareness of the strike, sent workers and students to cities to lead consumer boycotts

of table grapes, and even put his body on the line in a series of hunger strikes. After a grueling five year campaign, the UFW won the strike and secured living wages and a union voice in the grape fields.

After the triumph in the grape fields, the UFW grew dramatically until it represented more than 50,000 farmworkers, and farmworkers’ right to join together and bargain with their employers was e

nshrined in California law. Chávez continued to lead the UFW and fight for

the rights of workers, immigrants, and Latinos until his untimely death in 1993.

This weekend will see the release of the new movie Cesar Chavez, which document his moving story. You can find more information, including showings near you, here.

UFCW President Hansen Urges Support for Discharge Petition on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

UFCWnewsWASHINGTON, D.C.Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement supporting the discharge petition filed by House Democrats which seeks a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.

“It has been 272 days since the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform on a bipartisan basis. For nearly 9 months, the House has failed to follow suit. This discharge petition is a way for those who support reform to force a vote on legislation to fix our broken immigration system, protect workers’ rights, reunite families, and give aspiring Americans a path to citizenship. House Republican leaders need to stop making excuses and House Democrats who say they are with us need to make this petition a priority. Our nation deserves comprehensive immigration reform—not tomorrow, not the next day, now. The vast majority of Americans support reform—Republicans, Democrats, business, labor, faith communities, law enforcement, and students, just to name a few. The only thing stopping comprehensive immigration reform from becoming the law of the land is a small group of extremist members of Congress and their enablers. It is time to end the gridlock and hold a vote. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration should immediately stop deporting those who will achieve legal status once reform is passed.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

El Super Workers Rally for a Fair Contract and to Raise Standards Across the Grocery Chain

UFCW El Super workers rally in Los Angeles to call on a fair contract for workers and better working conditions throughout the grocery chain.

UFCW El Super workers rally in Los Angeles to call on a fair contract for workers and better working conditions throughout the grocery chain.

More than 100 workers, labor leaders, community activists, students, and clergy members gathered outside a South Los Angeles El Super store last week to demand a fair contract for union grocery workers employed by the chain. Workers at seven El Super stores across California, Nevada and Arizona currently have a union voice on the job. The workers are fighting for a fair contract that will raise standards across the 45-store grocery chain.

“We would like the company to pay us sick leave and give us 40 hours a week – a real full time job,” said Fermin Rodriguez, a cashier and shop steward with UFCW Local 770. “All workers at El Super deserve to be healthy and that’s why we are asking for sick leave. We’re here to send a message to workers and families that we will keep fighting for you and won’t give up until we win. Every El Super worker deserves a fair contract.”

El Super workers represented by UFCW Locals 324, 770, 1167 and 1428 are part of a growing movement of unionized workers at ethnic markets. Rapidly expanding chains like El Super underscore the importance of union workers achieving fair contracts that set higher standards across the chain. While El Super only had 14 stores as recently as 2008, the chain now employs over 4,000 workers and is opening 5 to 6 stores in the U.S. each year.

Martin Ayala, who has worked as a meat clerk at El Super for five years, explained why he was marching: “We are fighting for our benefits and for our rights because the El Super company has rejected all of what we’ve asked for at the bargaining committee. We’re asking for sick days because it’s important – we come into work sick, which is not respectful for the workers or the customers. We are forced to work sick and we handle food, so this is not good.”

Among the issues that El Super has refused to address in bargaining are respect on the job, seniority rights, health benefits and a guarantee of 40 hours per week for full time workers. The Mexico-based retailer that owns 80 percent of El Super, Grupo Comercial Chedraui, took in $120 million in 2012, and co-President Alfredo Chedraui Obeso’s net worth was reported to be over $1 billion as of January 2013.